Hualien, the largest city on the east coast, lies at the seaward end of a rift valley. This was formed by the separation of the Asian and Phillippine tectonic plates and thus is an area prone to earthquakes. On this map you can see the coast road running south from Hualien and the more or less parallel one passing through the rift valley.
Jimmy was game to drive a hire car for the day. So we started by going back up the coast about 10 miles to see the stupendous Qingshui cliffs.
Although the map shows ‘green’ low land all around the coast, in fact the mountains plummet from as much as 1000 metres straight into the sea along this part of the coast and both the railway and the road have to resort to lots of tunnelling. We could see the old road clinging to the cliffs, which looked truly perilous.
In fact we were to discover during the course of the day that not only the topography but also the numbering and indeed the positions of the roads on the map were but distant relatives to reality. Besides that, the Rough Guide advises that one should always check roads one intends to use, because of earthquakes, typhoon, flood, landslide damage etc. Jimmy clearly knew this as he stopped frequently at ‘convenience stores’ to ask the locals.
Next on our itinerary was Taroko Gorge. It was wonderful, living up to all expectations. The mountains here are a famous source of marble, and the river bed was strewn with massive marble boulders.
We took some of the old wiggly road down the rift valley so as to get good views of the inland mountains. The valley is strikingly both broad and flat, with cultivation at the side of a shallow river. It doesn’t take much to imagine the fields being swamped by a swollen river.
The road we’d planned to take over the mountains to the coast was indeed closed, so we returned almost to Hualien and sampled some of the famously beautiful coast southwards from there. One or two properties along the way were worthy of Grand Designs or Le Courbusier, and we’ve got used to spotting giant golden statues of Buddha or a local god seated among the densely forested slopes every now and then.
Then it was time to catch (a) the train back to Taipei, and (b) some snooze. We saw our first eight (8) cows, in ones and twos in separate fields, from the train window. Back to the Hot Springs hotel in Taipei this evening.